A new Amnesty International report states that in late November, soldiers from Eritrea who had been fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia entered the city of Axum and "systemically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians" in a "massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity."
Amnesty International interviewed 41 witnesses and survivors for the report. There have long been tensions between the Ethiopian federal government and leaders in Tigray, and in early November, members of the national military began clashing with Tigrayan forces. The Ethiopian government denies that Eritrean soldiers are in the country, contradicting newly appointed members of Tigray's interim government. Eritrea's government has called The Associated Press' earlier reporting of the Axum massacre "outrageous lies."
Witnesses told Amnesty International that on Nov. 19, Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces took control of Axum after waging a large-scale offensive. Over the course of nine days, soldiers executed people and looted stores, hospitals, and homes. After a small group of local militia members attacked their base, the soldiers began opening fire in the streets and raiding homes.
The worst violence occurred on Nov. 28 and 29, before the annual Axum Tsion Mariam festival. Witnesses told Amnesty International unarmed civilians were shot as they ran from soldiers, and others were taken from their homes, lined up, and executed. Most of the victims were men. "All we could see on the streets were dead bodies and people crying," one witness said.
"The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa. "Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum." Muchena added that this "atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict. Besides the soaring death toll, Axum's residents were plunged into days of collective trauma and violence, mourning, and mass burials." Since fighting began in the region, Tigray has largely been cut off from the outside world, and Amnesty International is calling on the Ethiopian government to let in humanitarian workers, human rights groups, and journalists.